Good chart showing the overlap of neurodiversities
The final Moodle Munch of this batch (I missed February’s!), began with James Brunton, Chloe Beatty, and Sophie Pallaro at DCU talking about their experience of conducting an accessibility review of a fully online open educational resource and the lessons learned. Good practice was achieved by using a standard template with a consistent layout and colour scheme and sharing that and other resources with staff via a central Moodle module dedicated to accessibility and inclusivity.
Some interesting points came out of this in the discussion. On the use of forums, there was a debate about the pros and cons of these for neurodiverse students, with some students reporting that the influx of messages are overwhelming, while others may prefer having more space to process a discussion and form their own responses. A reality check for the technological solutionists among us was a comment from a colleague that “some research on VLE content […] found that technical issues [were] less of a concern with the students they spoke to. […] It was the non-technical that needed addressing – clear writing style, plain English, clear sign-posting, clear headings (no not technical h1, h2)”.
The second presentation was from Andrew Field of Cambridge Assessment International Education, who talked about their experience of using H5P to develop rich, interactive content to enhance Moodle sites. They noted that while the available templates are good, they are rarely an exact fit and teaching needs to come before technology, and also to be aware of the potential danger of over-enthusiastic staff getting carried away with complex items which students can get lost in, and which may not be better than the VLE’s built-in tools – quizzes being cited as an example.
As always, recording and presentations are available on the Moodle Munch website.
A second online only event for CanvasCon as the pandemic rumbles on, with two key differences from last year’s event: first of all, this event combined both all of Instructure’s various wares, not just, Canvas, and all regions – the Americas, EMEA, etc. And secondly, it was, to be blunt, a bit rubbish. I’ll get more positive and have nice things to say towards the end of this post, but I’ll proceed in order.
You have to go into events of this nature expecting a deal of corporatisation and marketing nonsense, but last year Instructure managed to get product and company updates to us via the means of a news broadcast style segment which worked well and was entertaining. In contract, this year felt like whatever private equity firm(s) currently own Instructure had sucked all life and soul out of them. The morning keynote was a roundtable discussion between what was effectively eight different marketing people heavily selling technological solutionism. A particular low point was reached when trying to sell the benefits of Canvas for Elementary. Do elementary school children (primary school), really need a VLE? Really?
This was followed by a ‘partner and product hall’ for corporate sponsors of the event to sell their wares, and were divided into platinum, gold and silver tiers depending on how much money they had paid Instructure to be there (I imagine). I engaged with these out of desire to try and get the digital badges and swag that were on offer (damn you psychology!), but there was very little value in the experience. They used a platform called Bizzabo to host these, and like Remo last year, it was awful, though for different reasons. They don’t support Safari, my default browser, the Microsoft session had an animated banner in the background which was completely distracting, and a number of sessions I went into just had no-one there, or, in one case, had people complaining about how the service wasn’t working for them as hosts. I did manage to have a good discussion with folks from PebblePad as I was keen to see what it looks like now and what it can do, as I’m involved in a small project looking for an ePortfolio solution for a midwifery programme that goes beyond what we can accomplish with Mahara.
In our third contrast with last year’s CanvasCon, the afternoon keynote was from will.i.am, and it was a rambling, incoherent mess, though he came dangerously close to making some salient points at times. While LeVar Burton’s keynote last year could be criticised for being a little too generic, it was well-argued and coherent, and more importantly, it was genuinely inspiring and motivational.
The conference was saved by the afternoon partner-led sessions – educators talking about education, and how they’ve used various Instructure tools to help and support them – this is what it should have been all about. I attended five such sessions in the afternoon, three of which were a bust for different reasons, but in a concerted effort to end on a positive note and take something constructive out of the day, I’ll focus on the two that were genuinely good.
“Quick Quality Guide: 10 Take-Home Tips to Make Your Course Sexy” from Florida International University, was a presentation on their top-tips for engaging and accessible course design using a metaphor of ‘sexy / fashionable’. Lots of Universal Design for Learning on show here, including using multiple measures of assessment, and a wide variety of different course materials. They also talked about using a landing page with key information, having a learner support page, and using course structure tools, like the Syllabus tool in Canvas, to aid design and navigation.
“Why Microlearning is Real Learning” by Dr Peter Thomas of HaileyburyX was another excellent session discussing the benefits of micro learning – content chunked into 2-5 minute sessions, and 15 minutes at most, as a way to reduce extraneous cognitive load, replicate real-world environments where people often have to learn tasks very quickly, and exploit attention grabbing mechanisms like Twitter and TikTok do so successfully, but for good intent!
All of the session recordings, including the other 85 peer / partner breakout sessions I couldn’t attend, are available to watch online here. Colleagues inform me that they attended some good sessions too, on the coming improved Teams integrations with Canvas for example, so maybe I was just a little unlucky in what I chose to attend. We’re all in agreement that you can probably skip the keynotes though!
The subject of romanticism gives me a dubious excuse to use share one of my favourite paintings, Caspar David Friedrich’s The Abbey in the Oakwood
I’m taking liberties with the title of this post, because the session as advertised was ‘The Role of the Arts and Humanities in Effective Online and Blended Learning Design’ which is admittedly more descriptive, but also rather unwieldy. This ALT CPD session was a presentation and talk by Dr Neil Hughes, University of Nottingham, and the title ‘Romantic Online Course Design’, invokes the romantic movement of the 19th century.
The talk was an argument in defence of the arts and humanities in the face of the ongoing cuts and attacks by our current government, and how pedagogies from humanities teaching can improve online and blended learning provision. There was much here on the value of multiple means of representation, one of the pillars of universal design for learning, and I particularly enjoyed the advice on how students can be encouraged to use online learning tools available in the VLE such as discussion boards by providing scaffolding, using inclusive and intimate language such as the ‘we’ and ‘us’ pronouns, and emphasising the unique attributes of these spaces as private and non-commodified spaces in an online world where everything seems to be monetised now.
The February Moodle Munch recording. How do they get these up so fast!?
This month’s Moodle Munch had sessions on Universal Design for Learning and use of Office 365 within Moodle.
First up, Suzanne Stone and Ann Marie Farrell from DCU discussed how they went about creating a toolkit for creating Moodle course sites that were built with UDL considerations in mind. They were joined by an academic colleague who shared their reflections on using the toolkit. They had gone from using Moodle as a file store designed to meet their needs as a teacher, to one which put students’ needs first. This included, for example, redesigning content that previously would have been a PowerPoint upload, to an online interactive learning activity using the ‘Book’ tool in Moodle. That ‘using Moodle as a file store’ comment is a very familiar problem!
As an aside, and I’m not quite sure where this came from, someone posted a link in the chat to LibreTexts, an online resource for open source textbooks. It’s very American, but that’s understandable when the US has a huge problem with massively expensive textbooks students are expected to purchase on top of their already huge university fees. I’ve had a wee quick nose through their philosophy section and it seems pretty good. Bookmarked and shared.
Back on topic, the second session today was from Edel Gavan of MSLETB who talked about their Office 365 Moodle integration. Their Teams integration looks better than ours, as it can create a Team for each Moodle course which means that students get Teams meetings added to their Outlook calendars automatically, and they can easily create recurring appointments for, for example, weekly classes. To be fair, I think our systems could do that, but there are features we don’t have enabled by our IT. Edel also showed a ‘Block’ of Microsoft tools in Moodle which has been made available via a plugin to add those. One technical point of note regarding those was that each Microsoft service needs to be configured separately.